Taiko (Mounds View, MN)
Enough with the jokes about bait. We mostly hear such from people who are so sure they dislike sushi that they won't try it. But once a skeptic tries sushi, we hear things like, "It's not bad," "It's not fishy," or "Hey, I like this!"
Don't think of it as raw fish, think of it as top-quality protein.
Sushi is the best thing at Taiko. Nigiri sushi is a piece of fish on a chunk of rice, and maki sushi is a roll of rice and other ingredients wrapped in seaweed and sliced. Order these in small plate or larger combinations. Hamachi (yellowtail), maguro (tuna), and ebi (cooked shrimp) are all easy to like, and generally available.
It's always wise to ask what's freshest that day, and try that. Order nigiri sushi if you want to taste the fish, and one of the specialty rolls if you want a little more fun. Taiko offers two menu pages of maki sushi. You can even invent your own combination. And if it's good enough, they'll add it to the menu with your name on it.
If we have any complaint, it's that the nigiri portions of fish are too small. We prefer sushi bars where the chefs are less stingy with the fish.
Even so, if you're here, plan on making sushi your meal, as we weren't as impressed with most of the rest of the menu.
There were some gems. Of the appetizers, we liked both the seaweed salad and the octopus and cucumber salad. They were fresh, and tasted clean and bright. We also liked the salmon teriyaki appetizer: skewers of salmon with a sweet teriyaki sauce.
It got dicey after that. We didn't like the beef or chicken teriyaki appetizers at all; the meat wasn't very good, and the sauce didn't complement them. The gyoza -- Japanese potstickers -- also weren't very tasty. And the egg rolls were OK at best.
From among the entrees, we liked the seafood udon soup, available either spicy or mild. The broth was flavorful, the noodles were nicely firm, and we liked the shrimp tempura that came in the bowl. We also liked the unagi chirachi. That's barbecued eel -- delicious, if you've never had it -- in a bowl of rice with pickled vegetables and a bit of salad. Also good was the Korean-style galbi: marinated short ribs.
We also liked the seafood teriyaki. This is nothing like the appetizer; it has a much better sauce. We wish the scallops had been fresher, though.
After that, you're on your own. The pork tonkatsu is greasy and comes with a too-sweet sauce. The yakiniku -- Korean-style shredded marinated beef -- is bland. None of the other teriyaki dishes is worth ordering, either.
Most of these entrees come in a bento box, a black lacquered box with a variety of side dishes. You'll be glad to see the seaweed salad but disappointed with both the gyoza and the potato dumplings called korokke.
Taiko used to be located on Silver Lake Road and recently moved to its current location. Those of you who remember it from back then will be pleased to learn that it's now larger and brighter.
If You Go: Taiko
Location: 2394 County Road 10, Mounds View
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 Fri., 5-10 p.m. Sat.
Sound level: Not too noisy
Recommended dishes: Sushi
Prices: Dinners $9–$12, sushi rolls $5–$12
Children: No special children's menu